Monks and monasteries played a vital role in the Middle Ages in preserving and distributing books. It was their work which provided much of our present knowledge of the ancient past and of the rich heritage of Greek, Roman and Arabic traditions. With the advent of the printing press, this monastic tradition disappeared. However, the reverence for the historical record of text has been carried by librarians and archivists within private and public libraries to this very day.
The tenor of our time appears to regard history as having ended, with pronouncements from many techno-pundits claiming that the Internet is revolutionary and changes everything. We seem at times, to be living in what Umberto Eco has called an “epoch of forgetting.” Within this hyperbolic environment of technology euphoria, there is a constant, albeit weaker, call among information professionals for a more sustained
thinking about the impacts of the new technologies on society. One of these impacts is how we are to preserve the historic record in an electronic era where change and speed is valued more highly that conservation and longevity.
As we move into the electronic era of digital objects, it is important to know that there are new barbarians at the gate and that we are moving into an era where much of what we know today, much of what is coded and written electronically, will be lost forever. We are, to my mind, living in the midst of digital Dark Ages; consequently, much as monks of times past, it falls to librarians and archivists to hold to the tradition which reveres history and the published heritage of our times.